Working parallel to the museum’s core full-time staff is a phalanx of part-time artist instructors who create curriculum for and lead classes, student tours, and workshops. Two young star instructors—Ualani Davis and Andrea Charuk—recently left the museum’s education nest for great new jobs. (Pictured above: Davis, left, and Charuk, right, sandwich fellow Spalding House instructor Amelia Samari.)
Both women are artists, and both blipped onto education curator Aaron Padilla’s radar through education programs.
“The museum has always been a part of my life in some way,” says Davis, who is now a photography instructor for ninth through twelfth graders at Kamehameha Schools. “My grandmother would take me to the museum when I was a kid, I took classes at Linekona—it was an amazing place for me.”
Then in 2011, Davis, then a University of Hawai‘i art student at the time, took a 400-level special projects class taught by Katherine Love (now the museum’s contemporary art curatorial assistant) and Inger Tully (former assistant curator of contemporary art). The program had Ualani working with internationally known artists Darren Waterston, Ernesto Pujol, Alison Moritsugu, and Lynne Yamamoto, who all did installations at Spalding House and/or the museum’s Beretania Street location.
“I was lucky to get into that class and work with the visiting artists,” says Davis.
Charuk, who is now a visual arts and EQS instructor at the charter school SEEQS (School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability), first connected to the museum when she was working with the YMCA child development program and brought her class to one of Spalding House’s ArtClub events.
“When you have these programs, and students participating in them, you look for ones who are not only doing well in the program, but who show a real interest in becoming an educator,” says Padilla. “You identify people who are enthusiastic and you encourage them to take on either more responsibility or participate in other programs.”
He encouraged Davis and Charuk to apply for the Orvis Artist in Residence program (now called the Orvis Artist in the Museum program). They both did (a lot of people that museum staff reach out to don’t), and both were accepted. Davis teamed up with fellow UH student Brandon Ng to create the installation Blueprint, which had Spalding House visitors making giant cyanotype prints that were strung up over the Surface Gallery, billowing blue for six weeks last year. “To this day Blueprint stands as one of the best uses of the space and most innovative in terms of engaging the public,” says Padilla.
“Watching Ua in action with the public during her residency inspired us to ask her if she’d be interested in joining the team as an instructor for our SAMA (See Art Make Art) tour program,” says Padilla. “She agreed and excelled, and played an important role in developing projects and curriculum that fit in nicely with the Spalding House education-driven exhibitions.”
Leading SAMA tours was Davis’s first time working with actual school classes. “There was a kind of learn-on-the-job aspect to it,” says Davis, “because it’s not a formal classroom setting. But with the other staff and teachers and [museum educator] Bradley [Capello], it was a supportive environment. It was an excellent experience because there was so much creativity and freedom. So many competent, amazing people to work with. To develop curricula for exhibitions, we got information from Aaron and Bradley and would meet and shoot ideas and build off of each other. As we went along and taught, we would see what worked better for students of different ages, what explanations and visuals had the most impact. It was a collaborative learning experience.”
What she learned about tailoring programs to students’ ages and needs is helping her at Kamehameha Schools, where “it’s a bit of a juggle to teach different ranges of expertise,” says Davis. But she is energized to be introducing students to dark-room photography. “It’s fascinating—some kids have experience with iPhones, but they don’t know what’s happening or what it’s doing. Most kids have never held a photograph in their hands. They don’t understand what ‘light sensitive’ means. So whenever we make a photographic exposure, and a student makes their first print, I’m congratulating them because it’s a milestone for them.”
Charuk dove into every education task and position thrown at her with aplomb (and while working two other part-time jobs to survive—we’re talking seven days a week). From her Orvis residency project Take the Bait, she went on to work as a paid intern for the education component of the exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawai‘i Pictures, creating a website for students to share their exhibition-inspired artwork, leading teacher workshops, becoming a SAMA instructor at Spalding house, teaching an Art to Go outreach program at Damien Memorial High School, and “assisted us immensely on a number of projects, including playing an important role in the conception and construction of the interactive wall instrument Makiki Sound Machine,” says Padilla.
Museum educator Bradley Capello asked Charuk to shadow a student tour of the art-and-literature-themed A Thousand Words and Counting, which launched the Spalding House series of curriculum-based exhibitions. It convinced her to join the education team. Charuk was two years away from finishing her BFA, but “I was enjoying being at the museum, and wanted to ground my practice in education.” So she entered UH’s museum studies certificate program, which calls for students to undertake an internship, which led her to the Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams position. She worked with docents to develop a teacher booklet that used themes and concepts from the show. “We were trying to give teachers a jumping-off point to use art in ways they may not have thought of,” says Charuk.
She sees her time at Spalding House as a “great lab to hone skills—we were constructively critical of each other. If I could do it full time I would never leave.” Charuk mentions that often while guiding students through a Make Art session, museum visitors would ask if they could work on an art project.
With her SEEQS position part-time for now, Charuk continues to lead two to three See Art Make Art tours a week—luckily for the museum.
There wasn’t anything Davis and Charuk wouldn’t do for the museum. When asked to talk about the Spalding House SAMA tours on our TV partner KITV’s Art à la Carte segment last year, they were scheduled to appear on Oct. 29—so they showed up at the studio in costume. That’s how they did their work—mixing serious education with creative playfulness.
“That’s the thing about educating educators, you can offer people opportunities and support but not everybody takes advantage of it. They did,” says Padilla about Davis and Charuk. “Their paths to landing teaching gigs have been unconventional but very enriching, and is telling of the kinds of deep life-changing experiences one can have at the museum.”